It’s frighteningly obvious that our two parties need a face-saving way to avoid the abyss. We’re on the cusp of a deep and entirely self-inflicted national economic wound because of a tragic clash of psychologies. In 2011, President Obama let the GOP use the threat of default as extortion; when he caved in during that standoff, and agreed to an all-spending cut budget deal plus the creation of the ill-fated “supercommittee,” the blackmailers won. Two irreconcilable lessons were drawn. First, Obama learned he can never let this brand of hostage-taking happen again, lest he weaken his office and assure the endless spectacle of governance by crisis. Second, tea party Republicans learned that, when push comes to shove, this president blinks. Little wonder they think Obama will shortly buckle again. But no sane steward of the office can allow the debt-ceiling tactics of 2011 to prevail once more. Thus, real danger is much closer than even the sliding stock market in recent days suggests.
We need a way out. It would be nice if Obama simply said, “let’s raise the debt ceiling just enough to accommodate the $1.2 trillion in new debt the latest Republican budget calls for” — but the GOP would assent only if the rest of its (deeply misguided) budget were also enacted. It also would be nice if the press pointed out (in between breathless countdowns to calamity) that we’re the only nation that even has a “debt limit” available to be hijacked as a forcing device; in countries with common sense, when a budget is passed, any new debt associated with that budget is automatically okayed. It would be nice, too, if Congress hadn’t made a foolish fetish of eliminating earmarks, so a shrewd set of courthouses and bridges in “deserving” Republican districts could have sealed a reasonable budget deal weeks ago.